Iraq

Poor, Misunderstood Kissinger

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In a freshly unveiled interview with Bob Woodward, a recently deceased former president shares his doubts about the war in Iraq and the judgment of former staffers Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But my favorite part is the portrait of Henry Kissinger, a "super secretary of state" who comes across as supersensitive, superinsecure, and superwhiny:

Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another."

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job."…

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,' " Ford said, laughing. "But I never got around to that."

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  1. President Ford’s biggest foreign policy failures – over-confidence in detente (ie, Eastern Europe isn’t under Soviet domination), support for the tyrants carrying out Operation Condor, and defense of Indonesia as they committed genocide in East Timor – can be traced back to Kissingerian realpolitik.

  2. Yeah, I could give a gnat’s ass about the man’s inner angst. Kissinger is the model the neocons mold themselves on. During his tenure he committed (and committed the nation) to the most despicable foreign policy.

  3. and this is how a nation is run.

  4. Woodward could have at least waited until Ford’s funeral to write this. What a whore.

  5. This whole time I thought Kissinger was Ben Stein.

  6. Kissinger is the model the neocons mold themselves on.

    While tempting, I don’t see a lot of commonality ‘twixt Kissinger and the neocons. Neocons are, by definition,’idealistic’ about military options for spreading democracy.

    Kissinger never had any thought of letting democracy flourish. He was an anti-commie and was willing to let despots, tyrants and fascists get what they wanted if it meant curtailing the ruskies and keep governments stable.

    To pick up on joe’s line, while we could use a little more realistic foreign policy ideas, Kissinger was pretty despicable.

  7. Yeah, Kissinger is pretty much the devil incarnate to neocons. Personally, I think that a general policy of noninterference is best, as opposed to either naive nation-building or cynical “He’s our SOB” Realpolitik. Either way, we get stuck in a bunch of foreign squabbles that have nothing to do with us.

  8. madpad,
    Point taken. However, the goals differ but they share an inclination towards the military, and the obstinate faith in a sufficient application of bombs and bullets will achieve ideological ends.

  9. madpad,

    I’ve seen precious little idealism about democracy from the neocons, apart from rhetoric. Let’s not forget, the original plan for Iraq was to install Ahmed Chalabi as president; we only acquiesced to elections when Sistani forced our hand; and there was zip-zilch-nada effort to involve the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country.

    The term “democracy” in neoconservative parlance doesn’t seem to mean anything more than “American client” + “sell-off of state assets.”

  10. ChrisO,

    Please name for me a US-supported tyrant that neoconservatives have demanded we cease supporting.

    Then name for me a democratically-elected leader who is unfriendly to the US that the neoconservatives have defended against attempts to remove him from power.

  11. …and I don’t want to hear about Saudi Arabia. Outside of rhetoric and symbolism, the neocons are demanding that we do nothing whatsoever against them.

  12. joe, I agree in practice that neocons and Realpolitik types are not all that different, but the ideology is diametrically opposed. That’s pretty common knowledge and an easy Google, and your attempt at being contrarian is not convincing.

    Kissinger was quite forthright in his willingness to support useful tyrants. It’s the neocons who self-delusional and/or hypocritical by selectively proclaiming the need to enforce American Democracy abroad.

  13. Chris O,

    How is a neocon regime change any different than what Ike did in Guatemala?

    I am quite aware of the happy-happy talk about spreading democracy that the neocons declare to be their motivation, and how they like to set themselves up as the enemies of realism, but their self-description crumbles upon closer inspection.

    Both would support pro-American popular movements; both oppose anti-American popular movements (even when they assume the authority of government through the democratic process); both back up pro-American tyrants; and neither demonstrates even the slightest interest in furthering democracy or attending to humanitarian concerns when there isn’t a balance-of-power payoff for us.

    The only meaningful difference I can perceive is that neoconservatives seem to believe that the power of the our military to replace hostile governments with friendly ones is unlimited, while realpolitikers pick their battles more carefully.

  14. “Yeah, I could give a gnat’s ass about the man’s inner angst. Kissinger is the model the neocons mold themselves on.”

    Que? Kissengerian foreign policy is precisely the foreign policy approach the neocons rebelled against. Hitchens, a major supporter of the Iraq conflict, loathes Kissinger to an extent few human beings are able to loathe anyone.

    The foreign policy idealism that the neocons espouse are essentially an opposite of Kissinger’s realism. Indeed the conflict with Baker and the ISG comes basically from the fact that Baker is from the Kissinger foreign policy school that the neocons dislike so much.

  15. Again,

    The fight between the conservative realist hawks and the neoconservatives is the equivalent of the Trotskyites vs. the Stalinists.

    Don’t confuse the intensity of the fighting for a significant philosophical split. Their areas of actual disagreement are few and far between, but the neocons, being radicals, fight hard.

  16. How come Woodward never publishes important interviews while his subjects are alive? Seriously. It’s like Seymour Hersch with all his many “exclusives” that never quote any identifiable, checkable sources. Why are they considered such hot shit? Yeah, Watergate and My Lai. But I mean something within the last oh, twenty years or so? Verifiable, checkable, relevant, current reportage? Anyone?

  17. stubby, I understand that Ford gave the interview on the condition it not be published until after his death.

  18. I just want to know what he’s got in that magical murder bag?

  19. joe

    Yesterday you were telling me it was OK for FDR to be nice to Stalin because he was on our side in WWII.

    Today you are saying it is immoral to support dictators just because they are on our side.

    Make up your mind.

    [Naturally, I assume this has nothing to do with the fact that FDR is a liberal hero and Henry K was an adviser to conservative presidents.]

  20. “While tempting, I don’t see a lot of commonality ‘twixt Kissinger and the neocons. Neocons are, by definition,’idealistic’ about military options for spreading democracy.”

    The key is probably Cheney, who absorbed the Nixon/Kissinger ethos of ruthless exercise of unlimited powers, filtered through an underachieving Wyoming-raised lens, and may have drank the neocon koolaid along the way.

    He’s a veritable cocktail of evil.

  21. On top of everything else, Henry the K was, we learn, a diva. Oy, what a schmuck…

  22. Arensen,

    There was no military threat to us during the Cold War that was came within 100 miles of that posed to us by the Nazis – at least, not one that any of our nasty little alliances could have helped with.

    As a rule of thumb, I believe we need to avoid getting the bed with the devil, but when the threat is as severe as that posed to us in the early 40s, I’m willing to be somewhat flexible. I give a president a little more wiggle room when faced with a million-man army on a shooting-war rampage across three continents, compared to, for example, the Sandinistas or Ho Chi Minh.

    Anyway, my comments about FDR yesterday weren’t about the morality of our alliance, but about how one deals with snooping by an ally vs. snooping by an enemy.

  23. Yesterday you were telling me it was OK for FDR to be nice to Stalin because he was on our side in WWII.

    Today you are saying it is immoral to support dictators just because they are on our side.

    The key difference, besides the type of threat involved as joe mentioned, is that we didn’t help Stalin torture and imprison dissidents. We didn’t find ways to send him arms as he mowed down men, women, and children in the streets. And we didn’t give training and arms to terrorists who regularly raped and murdered people opposed to Stalin.

    During the Cold War we did all of those things for “anti-communists” all over the world.

  24. joe

    The Soviet Union was a threat in the 70’s, in case you missed it. As they were in the 40’s.

    FDR chose to ignore Stalin’s evils – at least as great as those of the Nazis – and chose to accommodate Stalin’s expansionism, despite clear warnings.

    The alliance with the Soviet Union may have been an evil necessity in WWII. However, if you allow that, you must also allow that, in resisting Soviet expansionism in the Cold War Era, it may also have been necessary to make some unsavory alliances.

    OTOH, if you are going to condemn Kissinger for his unsavory realpoltik, you must equally condemn FDR [and Harry Hopkins] for pandering to Stalin. At least Kissinger was under no illusions that the dictators he supported were nice guys.

  25. Les

    You seem to have conveniently forgotten the TWO MILLION anti-Soviets who were forcibly returned to the Soviet Union at the end of WWII.

    Plus the vast arms shipments to the Soviet Union during WWII, while Beria’s KGB continued to arrest and murder people for “Anti-Soviet Activity”.

  26. Arensen,

    And if we were in a military confrontation with the Soviets, and threatened with defeat, in the 1970s, I would have been willing to make nice with, say, Pinochet, if doing so would have, say, opened up a second front and made a significant military contribution.

    Instead, we made nice with tyrants and torturers like Pinochet in the complete absense of such a conflict, or of such a significant contribution.

    You’re pretending that a contained, deterred Soviet Union during the Cold War presented the same exigent circumstances as a rampaging Nazi Germany in 1942; you’re further pretending that making sure Chile was ruled by a pliable government was the equivalent of tying down the majority of the Nazi war machine.

    Both pretenses are deeply silly.

  27. Aresen,

    There’s nothing convenient about my memory, believe me.

    If the U.S. forcibly sent anti-Soviets to the Soviet Union, that was wrong.

    If the U.S. sent arms to the Soviets knowing they would be used to suppress dissent, that was wrong.

    But that has no bearing on whether it was right or wrong to do what we did as a matter of policy during the Cold War. Just as the fact that we firebombed Tokyo and Dresden wouldn’t mean that it’s okay should use that tactic now (or that it was right to do even then).

    I think it’s historically evident that it was unnecessary to, say, support terrorists to fight communism in Nicaragua (the citizens of Nicaragua voted the Sandinistas in in 1984 and voted them out in 1990 in free and fair elections). I think the Cold War would have turned out the same had we refused to advocate murder and torture of dissidents all over the world, mostly because communism is doomed to fail from the get-go, but also, because I believe enough in American ingenuity to think that it’s not necessary to become evil to fight it.

  28. For example, Arensen, you’ll hear no criticism from me of Truman’s decision to work with the rightist dictatorship in South Korea to stave off the North Korean/Chinese assault.

  29. joe

    Don’t put words in my mouth.

    I am not excusing Kissinger. I am saying that the Soviet Union was an immediate danger during the Cold War. IMHO, Chile should have been left to fester under Allende. It would have been an excellent ‘bad example’ of how socialists can make life miserable.

    Your silly pretense – in the context of your last post – is that the Soviets were only acting in Chile. In fact, the KGB was actively working to subvert pro-US governments throughout the world. The Cold War really was a war, it just did not involve a direct confrontation between the military forces of the primary powers.

    Your other silly pretense is that we could not influence the Soviet Union during WWII. FDR had the hammer – Stalin was dependent on US aid.

    Further, the activities of the KGB and the GRU in the US during WWII went well beyond gaining intelligence. The Soviets were actively laying the groundwork for a network of agents and saboteurs to work against the US, which is what J Edgar Hoover and others tried to warn FDR about, only to be derided and dismissed by FDR and Hopkins.

    And there was simply no excuse, other than willful blindness to Stalin’s intentions, for the forcible repatriation of the anti-Soviets after the end of the fighting in Europe.

  30. Les

    I agree that the support for dictatorships, the torturers and the assassins was wrong. Further, I think it was counterproductive.

    What I object to is joe’s pretense that FDR and Hopkins were somehow more moral than Nixon and Kissinger.

    For a reference on the forcible repatriation:

    http://www.fff.org/freedom/0495a.asp

  31. Arensen,

    I neither put words in your mouth, nor attributed an opinion about Dr. K to you. I addressed the point your raised on its own terms, so chill the heck out.

    Nor did I address the question of working to influence the Soviet Union, one way or the other. If you absolutely must attribute positions to me, could you try to make sure they are positions on issues that are actually being discusses?

    “The Cold War really was a war, it just did not involve a direct confrontation between the military forces of the primary powers.”

    Uh huh. This glass isn’t full of milk. It’s just full of nourishing white liquid from a cow’s udder.

    If an American soldier in Germany had put a bullet in the face of a Red Army soldier on the other side of the border, would he have been given a medal? No? If a U.S. submarine commander had sunk a Soviet destroyer, would he have recieved a hero’s welcome upon his return? No? Do you know why that is? BECAUSE WE WEREN’T AT WAR. We were in competition, and we had unfriendly relations, but that isn’t war.

    “Your silly pretense – in the context of your last post – is that the Soviets were only acting in Chile.” That’s what’s called an “example.” To us native English speakers, the repeated use of “…, say,…” indicates that one is bringing up a single case, to serve as an example of a broader class of similar episodes.

    “The Soviets were actively laying the groundwork for a network of agents and saboteurs to work against the US, which is what J Edgar Hoover and others tried to warn FDR about, only to be derided and dismissed by FDR and Hopkins.” Yes, you’re right. The issue being discussed is why this happened, and how harshly FDR should be judged for this error. Given that the Soviets were our allies; that millions of them were dying to defeat our common enemy; and that both governments were working hard at fostering positive, cooperative relations, it is understandable that FDR would view the Soviet’s covert activities in our country to be closer to Israel’s covert activities here in the 1980s, or our own covert activities in Russia during the war, than to that carried out by an enemy during wartime. Allies check up on each other all the time, not as a weapon being used to weaken the other, but in order to gain knowledge useful information for other purposes. It was perfectly reasonable for FDR to view the Soviets’ covert activities this way.

  32. joe

    If you really think that the Cold War was just “competition”, you need to read Von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. And Americans and Soviets did kill one another while it was going on.

    And you continue to ignore the fact that KGB activities in the US – and Britain – during WWII were well beyond “intelligence gathering”. Read up on Blunt/Philby et al. It was not reasonable for FDR to ‘overlook’ these activities.

    You said you were willing to approve of Truman’s alliance with South Korea against the North. What is your view on Eisenhower siding with Nasser against France and Britain during the Suez crisis?

  33. What I object to is joe’s pretense that FDR and Hopkins were somehow more moral than Nixon and Kissinger.

    Ah, I see. I don’t know enough about FDR to know about his morality (except that he was, above all things, a political man, which might be saying it all).

  34. Clauswitz: War is politics by other means. Not “all means.” Not “any means that advances political interests.” But a specific set of “other” means.

    Ordinary means: speeches, rallying allies, building up a military force, economic competition.

    “Other” means: artillery barrages, naval engagement, aerial bombardment, combined-arms assaults.

    The Cold War was carried in, mainly, through the “ordinary” means of statecraft, and only occasional bursts of “other” means broke out. We were not at war with the Soviet Union.

    “It was not reasonable for FDR to ‘overlook’ these activities.” Isn’t that a cost/benefit question?

    “What is your view on Eisenhower siding with Nasser against France and Britain during the Suez crisis?” I don’t have one.

  35. joe

    Your citation of von Clauzewitz’ most famous quote and your immediate mis-construction of it tells me that you have either never read “On War” or did not understand it.

    Von Clausewitz very clearly meant that war and politics are part of a continuum, with no dividing line between them. Your attempt to quibble on “any means” is contrary to what von Clausewitz said when he advocated that war be carried out “absolutely” – i.e. by any means possible. The only limits von Clausewitz placed were those of what we would today call a cost/benefit analysis. Morality never entered into his calculations; indeed, he cautions against introducing a moral dimension to war.

    My point about FDR’s ‘overlooking’ the KGB activities was not that of a cost/benefit analysis, but that he [and Hopkins] refused to take countermeasures and ignored and derided those who advocated them.

    I reject your attempt to limit the definition of war to a combat situation betwen armed forces in the field. This is where Sun Tzu makes his most important point – nation states are always at war. [Which is one reason that libertarians find them objectionable.] The Soviet Union, during the Cold War, was actively training guerillas to attack the US and its allies. The fact that successive Presidents [wisely] did not respond to this by launching an all-out attack on the USSR did not make these activities any less acts of war.

    We agree that the acts of Nixon and Kissinger were reprehensible expediency. Why do you persist in excusing FDR and Hopkins, on the grounds of expediency, for the no less reprehensible acts they committed – of which the forcible repatriation cited above and the consent at Casablanca and Yalta to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe are but two examples?

    I cited the Suez crisis as a test of your acceptance of the need for expedient decisions. Eisenhower chose to side with a nasty dictator – Nasser – against his democratic allies – Britain and France – for the expedient purposes of the long range US interests in the Middle East.

  36. Arensen,

    Clausewitz advocated that war, actual war, when it broke out, be carried out by any means necessary. You are misstating him in asserting that he believed all statecraft, all competition, was to be advanced through total war.

    “Why do you persist in excusing FDR and Hopkins, on the grounds of expediency, for the no less reprehensible acts they committed?” Because the situation they faced was much more grave and immediate than that faced by Cold War presidents. In war – actual war – many things are permitted, evenk required, that are undeniably immoral in ordinary civilian life. You’re simply refusing to acknowledge that such a distinctin exists, which is a delusion beyond reason.

    So I bid you Happy New Year.

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